A not-so-new movement has recently come to healthcare – the Hackathon. This fast-paced, interactive meeting format started in the tech industry in the late 1990’s, and is now being applied to some of healthcare’s toughest challenges. The word “hackathon” is a portmanteau of the words “hack” and “marathon,”- meaning to find “hacks” or solutions quickly, during an event dedicated to the process. MIT’s Hacking Medicine program has taken the lead in spreading this concept, holding more than 40 such events worldwide. I’ve had the privilege to work with the MIT team in the creation of two events: Hacking Rural Medicine and Hacking Medicaid.

The events bring together not only leaders from healthcare, but also from engineering, business, start-ups, design, government, and education. Attendees form small teams and work together on specific challenges, brainstorming and developing solutions that are shared as part of a competition at the end of the event. Professionals from the different industries view healthcare challenges from new perspectives. It’s these new and various perspectives, in partnership with the healthcare expertise, that produce such amazing results. One hackathon event resulted in the creation of Pillpack, which became a Time Magazine company of the year in 2014. As another example, the winning team at Hacking Rural Medicine created a computer and mobile application for real-time patient satisfaction surveys.

The final projects aren’t the only result of the hackathon. These events also serve to de-silo the healthcare industry, connecting healthcare professionals with other fields and perspectives that they wouldn’t normally engage in the course of their work. These fresh ideas and new connections continue to spur innovation long after the event. Hackathons are also resulting in new start-up businesses and opportunities for attendees. Lastly, they are high-energy, exciting, and just plain fun. To attend a hackathon, or to start your own, visit the MIT website for a list of upcoming dates.

Also, read my friend Terry Hill’s account of Hacking Rural Medicine.